New bill forces FCC to offer more low-power FM signals for community, educational use

Courtesy Photo /
Len OKelly of WGVU

Courtesy Photo / Len O’Kelly of WGVU

Elijah Brumback

11The House and Senate passed the bill introducing The Local Community Radio Act, H.R. 6533, in December, and President Barack Obama signed the bill into law on Jan. 4.

Initial worries on behalf of the FCC argued that an increase in low-power community stations would cause possible interference with larger high-power stations, though developments since 2000, when the FCC first limited licenses for LPFM stations, have made the FCC change their stance and encourage congress to pass the bill.

“This is a huge legislative victory for community groups who have wanted to communicate directly to the people,” said Congressman Lee Terry (R-Neb.), who was responsible for the bill, on his website. “Now their dream is reality. This important law will empower groups and organizations to give a voice to the people. I am anxious to listen to low-power station that will be formed thanks to this new law.”

Since then, O’Kelly has put together a survey, which he has already distributed to his Communications Broadcast class CBR 380. O’Kelly said he would also be passing it through the school of communications.

“I am surveying college students about their music listening habits in order to determine, essentially, whether GVSU needs an over-the-air signal for student radio,” he said. “Should GVSU try and get one? That’s what I hope to find out.”

O’Kelly said beyond the university perspective he would also like to see a broad cross-section of the surrounding community respond.

As a result of the new LPFM legislation, which has been amended several times since the early 2000s, primarily on the coattails of other proposed bills, LPFM stations have begun to spring up across the country, many here in Michigan and the west side of the state.

Unlike high power stations that can cost upwards of a $1 million, LPFM stations are relatively affordable for small communities and educational institutions. An antenna and transmitter have an approximate cost of $2,000 to $5,000, excluding legal fees, maintenance and other costs. O’Kelly said if the university agrees to the venture, expense estimates could total $12, 000 to $15,000, though there is the possibility of generating revenue with advertising to help supplement the proposed cost., a non-partisan organization that supports LPFM stations, advocates their proliferation for several reasons, including strengthening the community identity, creating an outlet for amateur musicians to get their music heard, encouraging diversity on the air, creating opportunities for young people, especially college students who are interested in radio to learn about the business, and provide farmers with up-to-date agricultural information

Opponents, including National Public Radio and the Nation Association of Broadcasters, argue that LPFM stations increase signal interference and further burden the high-power stations. Specifically, the NAB claims full power FM broadcasters “enhance localism” by providing community responsive information such as emergency information. Allowing low power FM stations to have equal spectrum rights could be detrimental to these necessary programs.

Investors in radio also argue that deregulation of LPFM services hinder the development of digital radio, though HD radio is limited to about one percent of a stations power.

In the West Michigan area there are a number of new LPFM licenses, which primarily belong to religious organizations. Calvin College is among them.

O’Kelly said if the LPFM idea is realized, it could become another tool in recruiting for the university and the broadcasting program.

Funding for the possible project is another question that O’Kelly and Media Advisory Board head Bob Stoll would have to explore if acquiring a LPFM license were to reach a consensus approval with in the university. Stoll was unable to be reached for comment.

Possible corporate sponsorship is an option. Currently Meijer is sponsor of WGVU programming. A similar partnership could prove to be beneficial.

Once research is concluded, the information will be passed along to the Media Advisory Board.

The survey is available at

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